KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo — A year ago, female church leaders from the three Mennonite denominations in the Democratic Republic of Congo began work on a churchwide program, “Evangelization Through Literacy.” Now their efforts are bearing fruit.
Among those present on Easter Sunday at Bondeko Mennonite Church in Kinshasa were three young women who had only been attending services for a few weeks.
Gina Mujinga, Ardan Pesana and Natacha Yamba had learned to read and write in classes held during the week at the church. Now they were taking the next step — becoming church members. Two were part of music groups performing that Sunday.
In its first year, the program has trained about 100 adult-literacy teachers in Kinshasa and Kikwit. Working as volunteers, the trainees are teaching more than 1,000 students in greater Kinshasa and Bandundu Province.
A third teacher-training workshop was held in Mbuji Mayi in Eastern Kasai Province the week after Easter.
‘A useful woman’
Yamba had completed only about a year of school when her father lost his job. Her mother’s small commercial activities couldn’t pay school fees for four children. Yamba tried to learn tailoring but couldn’t afford the fees. Now she had a child and no income.
She heard about the program when one of these new teachers, Justice Moshamesu, went through her neighborhood last October announcing the classes over a megaphone. She decided to give it a try, though some of her friends made fun of her.
From the first days of the thrice-weekly class, she said, she was impressed by the instructor’s kindness and his instructions in the word of God while teaching basic reading and writing in Lingala.
“I sincerely thank the initiators of this project and our teacher, who have made me a useful woman in society,” she said. “Thanks to this education, Jesus Christ has become the Lord and Savior of my life. I can read and write, and reading the Bible is especially beneficial to me and future generations.”
Yamba said the friends who made fun of her are having second thoughts. She is encouraging them to join a class.
“Truly, words fail me to thank my God,” she said. “I am so proud of myself.”
Teaching like a pastor
The program has been transformative for the new teachers, as well. Moshamesu graduated from university with a degree in communications and no relevant job prospects. He supported himself for two years by selling foodstuffs brought from the countryside. Then he heard about the Kinshasa training, and “something pulled at my heart,” he said. He applied and was accepted.
Moshamesu taught his first classes near his home, but the Bondeko pastors asked him to set them up in the church building, in the Masina District, where he is a member. This means a challenging daily commute. He goes to the church six days a week because the demand requires multiple classes.
Moshamesu teaches about 40 students, most in their teens and 20s.
“The youth of Masina have a reputation for being wild,” he said, with obvious affection. “They have a lot of problems. They tell me about them. I find myself lying awake at night, thinking about my students: ‘Why isn’t she learning? How will I handle this disruptive kid?’ ”
When a student doesn’t show up for class, Moshamesu pays a visit.
“I am like a pastor to them,” he said. “My gift is transmitting what I know to others. This should be the work of everybody in church. You can teach at least one person. God gave me importance in a way that I never expected. I feel very important. I know that God wants me to do this.”
Support from AIMM
While the teachers work as volunteers, Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission provides funds for the training and for textbooks, blackboards and megaphones for publicity. Transportation expenses continue to be a challenge.
According to AIMM administrator Rod Hollinger-Janzen, the program will need an additional $20,000 to conduct an intensive training in Tshikapa later this year as well as for ongoing expenses and supervision.
The Tshikapa training is crucial because of the large number of displaced people and disrupted congregations in that region. The Kikwit classes also include displaced persons.
Contributions may be made online or mailed to AIMM, designated “Congo literacy.”
Nancy Myers supervises the Congo Literacy Project as a volunteer for Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission. Charlie Malembe is a Mennonite journalist in Kinshasa.